How can my life be significant?
At the top of Buchanan Street in Glasgow there is a statue of the late Donald Dewar, a great advocate of Scottish devolution, and who was the inaugural First Minister of Scotland. The presence of a statue of him, unveiled two years after his death in 2002 by Tony Blair, is evidence that he is regarded by many as a man whose life carried such weighty significance that it merited a lasting memorial to him.
Apparently Madeira airport has been renamed in honour of its most decorated footballing son, Cristiano Ronaldo. He too has statues in his honour. His remarkable sporting talent and his footballing accomplishments are so valued that he is memorialised in this way.
Our society has numerous ways of honouring individuals whose lives are reckoned to display a mark of greatness about them, lives whose contribution - be that political, literary, scientific, or whatever - is of such unusual significance that they ought to be honoured and remembered. The truly ‘great’ are often memorialised by having their ashes interred, or a memorial erected, in Westminster Abbey. During a service in the Abbey on 15th June 2018, the ashes of the remarkable mathematician and physicist Stephen Hawking were interred, not far from those of Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin.
Jesus provided us with a very different measure of greatness and significance, and one that can easily coexist with the ordinariness of most of our lives. The Gospels record how Jesus spoke of John the Baptist as a man of notable greatness. After explaining that John fulfilled the unique role anticipated by the Old Testament prophets - as the one who would prepare the way for the King-Messiah - Jesus said:
Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Matthew 11:11a
John exercised a ministry of pointing to Jesus. Therein lay his significance and importance. Unlike the Old Testament prophets, he heralded the Messiah not from the distance of years but as a contemporary of Jesus. John was able to see Jesus with his own eyes, and direct attention to Him saying:
Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.’ John 1: 29-30
John’s life-work and calling was in service to Jesus. John conducted a remarkable ministry which, outwardly, seemed astonishingly successful. Crowds flocked to see John and listen to him preaching, and many responded by allowing him to baptise them in the river Jordan. There was a notable spiritual awakening under John’s ministry. Yet John did not measure his own significance in the size of the crowds who came to listen to him. Rather, John saw that his life was only notable insofar as it served the Lord Jesus and pointed to Him:
They asked him, “Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” 26 John answered them,
“I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, 27 even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie John 1:15-27
The true greatness of John the Baptist was not in his great preaching or impressive influence, but in his humble service of Jesus. He was great because he lived in close proximity to Jesus, living a life that shone a light on Jesus, in order that others might put their trust in Him.
He must increase, but I must decrease John 3:30
It is the Christ-centred servanthood of John that lies behind him being regarded by our Lord as greater than any who were before him. This is remarkable. It means that, in Jesus’ estimation, there is a true greatness about John that surpasses Abraham, Moses, Isaiah…. Of course, if you think about it, Jesus is really saying something about Himself. True greatness is in serving and pointing to Jesus. That is why, after saying what He did about the greatness of John, Jesus goes on to say:
Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. Matt 11:11b
We who live this side of the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus, who live this side of Pentecost, have a much clearer revelation of who Jesus is, and of the salivation He brings. Since service in proximity to Jesus, and pointing faithfully to Him means true greatness, then we believers can have a greatness that surpasses even that of John the Baptist (and by extension all the great Old Testament figures who went before him)
The quietest, shyest, most ordinary Christian believer has an aura of true greatness about them. This is not because of any grand accomplishment, but arises from allowing their lives to be so transformed by the Spirit of God, using the Word of God, that their lives shine a light on Jesus. In living for Him, and serving Him, lies true greatness and genuine significance.
A life of significance is a life of service. That kind of significance lasts unto eternity and is open to any believer.
Church of Scotland
Church of Scotland
Novemberr 2019 - Modesty How can my life be Significant?